I never thought my ethnicity, skin colour, citizenship, religion or even my accent were crucial until I moved to Dallas, Texas.
Back home in Argentina -or at least in my social circle- we were all third or fourth generation Argentinians of mainly Italian or Spanish descent (which accounts for our ethnicity, I guess,) Catholic (at least in name,) and spoke with the same accent (that of Buenos Aires.)
When I was little, meeting people from other provinces with a different accent or with a different religion was exciting because it felt like discovering a whole new world. Let alone meeting a foreigner!
Back to the present. Now I live in a foreign country, have a foreign accent, have a citizenship that is different to that of most people and my skin colour has acquired some kind of (sick) relevance in the eyes of others.
Here’s a list of the most common replies I’ve got when I say I’m from Argentina (in no particular order, although the blank stare is probably the most popular.)
- … (blank stare. Many people have absolutely no clue where or what Argentina is. Europe? Africa? A country? A city? I’m not kidding!)
- Really? But you’re … (and touch their face as if saying “but you’re white!”)
- Ya’ll go confusing people with your skin tone (again, the a-Latin-American-person-can’t-be-white theme.)
- No! You can’t be! But you’re O’Reilly! (by marriage, you dumb-ass)
- No! – Yes, I am – No! – Yes, I am – But then you must be a Nazi! (again, a clear example of prejudice. By the way, this reference to the Nazi stems from the fact that many a Nazi commander took refuge in my country after the war with the help of President Peron and his wife Evita. In exchange of gold. Lots of it. Not one of our proudest moments as a country .)
- Oh, that’s interesting. (Interesting!!?? Why?) Isn’t Argentina the only white Latin American country? (Huh?? who cares?)
- Do you eat tacos and burritos too? (Noooooo, that’s mainly Mexico)
- Oh, I see. Do you speak Spanish? (What else???)
- Really? I thought you were European/Spanish/French/German/Russian (at least two people have said I speak English with a slight Russian accent. Now that is funny.)
Lately, I’ve started to reply I’m from South America, which is vaguer but nonetheless true. It saves me a lot of explaining.
I sometimes felt discriminated, looked down on, but I realised some people are just ignorant or have misconceptions about countries that lie south of the Rio Grande. Mind you, my hubby is from Wales and some of the comments people made were really funny too:
- Oh, is that a country? (no comment)
- I was in Australia once and loved it (He confused New South Wales with the “old” Wales in the UK)
In a weird sort of way, this makes me feel better.